Interview with Philip Williams - The World, ABC

  • Transcript, E&OE

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Thanks very much for joining TheWorld.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Scott Morrison said in an answertoday, I think, that the aid budget is affected, which in answer to thequestion, the aid budget is pretty well frozen, he said it isn't the money, itis how you spend it. Do you agree with that? And if so, I mean that kind of anargument for never increasing a budget again?

JULIE BISHOP: Let me first put it in context. The aidbudget has not been cut as some commentators and others have suggested. Infact, it's increased in total amounts by over 2%. This year, it is $4.1billion, next year it will be $4.2 billion. The question of indexation has beenpaused and let me quote a former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr who saidfamously: "You cannot run an aid budget on borrowings." So, we're theonly Party with a track back to surplus, we have a plan to get the Budget backinto surplus. So of course we can revisit indexation when our Budget is able tosustain it. But the aid budget in total has increased and we have targeted ouraid budget deliberately to the Pacific. This year we announced in the Budget$1.3 billion in overseas development assistance for the Pacific. This is arecord. No previous Australian government has directed so much investment inoverseas development assistance to the Pacific. It is not only how you spendit, it is how it is targeted and the results you are able to achieve.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: You are still being criticisedfor not spending enough in the Pacific and you've effectively, yesterday youwere eclipsed by the New Zealanders who announced a 30% increase in theircommitment to the Pacific.

JULIE BISHOP: We are working very closely with New Zealandon stepping up engagement in the Pacific and I have just announced or theTreasurer announced, and as Foreign Minister I am announcing a recordinvestment in the Pacific, $1.3 billion. No previous government has everdirected that amount of money into the Pacific. It is not just the aid budgetand it would be foolish to overlook what else we do in the Pacific. We have a significantdefence and security and law-and-order assistance, we provide educationalsupport, our New Colombo Plan is also focused on the Pacific, so our engagementwith the Pacific is much deeper and broader than just the overseas developmentassistance.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Of course, underlying that is asense that many commentators have pointed out that this is in a sense a foil toChina's increasing influence in the Pacific. At least a concern that's beenexpressed by some in the government, in the past. If that is the aim, then ifyou haven't significantly increased it in a substantial way, and all this talk aboutChina, then are you missing the mark?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact, what those commentators are missingis that ever since I became Foreign Minister, I have made the Pacific a foreignpolicy priority. Back in 2013, the commentators weren't talking about China'sinfluence in the Pacific, but I was talking about Australia's influence andengagement in the Pacific. Over my time as Foreign Minister - we have made thePacific a foreign policy priority in terms of its prosperity, its stability,its security - from building a brand-new school of governance and Pacificleadership in Port Moresby to an Australia Pacific security college, to theundersea telecommunications cables that we are building.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Now it is very clear the underseacable deal, 200 million, PNG, Solomon Islands, that's really to stop theChinese doing it, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: It is to ensure we deliver a high qualityundersea telecommunications cable for two very important partners of Australia,PNG and Solomon Islands, so it drives economic benefits in those countries. Now,PNG is a significant recipient of Australian aid, about half a billion dollars.What we want to ensure is that the PNG economy can grow and flourish and they needthis high-quality, timely delivery of a telecommunications cable.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Nothing to do with China?

JULIE BISHOP: We would rather of course be the partner ofchoice for PNG and Solomon Islands.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: How would you characterise ourrelationship with China at the moment? There seems to be a couple of nigglingproblems. One seems to be visa hold-up, even our own Trade Minister doesn'tseem to be able to get a visa. It doesn't seem that the welcome mat is outthere for Ministers -

JULIE BISHOP: That's not correct.

JULIE BISHOP: That is not correct. Our Trade Minister isgoing to China. He will be in Shanghai shortly.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: I thought there was a problem, adelay?

JULIE BISHOP: No there is no problem at all.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: That is good to hear.

JULIE BISHOP: There have been no denials of visas forAustralian ministers. I expect to be visiting China on an annual basis. ForeignMinister Wang Yi was here in Australia last year, it is my turn to go to Chinathis year. I'll do that some time this year, we are planning on that. I am incommunication with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and the concerns about the Australia-Chinarelationship are being overstated. We are continuing to work closely togetheron a whole range of issues. We are very important trading partners to eachother and we are continuing to work closely with China on a whole range ofmatters.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: The big picture with China ofcourse, one of the major security concerns, is their claim to the South ChinaSea. We've had recent reports of the militarisation of the Spratly Islands inaddition to other islands. Is it now simply a reality that they do control theSouth China Sea? In effect they have annexed it?

JULIE BISHOP: China is a permanent member of the UNSecurity Council. In that unique role China must uphold the internationalrules-based order, must be a guardian of peace and stability around the world.In the South China Sea, we have consistently said that no country shouldunilaterally raise tensions, should coerce others and we want to see anydifferences in claimants resolved peacefully and these are maritime territorialboundary claims, they should be resolved peacefully.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: That is not happening, that isnot happening at the moment, is it?

JULIE BISHOP: Or through access to the internationalframework, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is howAustralia resolved our border issues with Timor-Leste, an exemplary example ofhow to negotiate.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: One last question - it's a veryserious one - that is on MH17. Something close to your heart, I know because you'vecome in contact with some of the families of the victims in your electorate.You've allocated $50 million for legal fees to pursue those responsible for theshooting down of that aircraft. That is a lot of money. How would you convinceAustralian voters that's good value?

JULIE BISHOP: I remember like it was yesterday the shootingdown of MH17, 298 people aboard a civilian aircraft, a commercial aircraft wereshot down over essentially a war zone in Ukraine. I spent quite some timeoverseas getting a vote at the UN Security Council to support access to thatcrash site so that we could recover the bodies. I spent days and nights and youwill recall it well Phil, days and nights ensuring that we could access thesite and retrieve the bodies of the 38 people who called Australia home. Wemade a vow then to the families of those victims that we would pursue justicefor them. That we would continue to hold to account those who were responsiblefor this atrocious event, 298 people killed. So, we've been part of a jointinvestigation team along with Ukraine, Belgium, Malaysia and the Netherlands.The five nations have been working assiduously through mountains of evidence tocome up with a report first as to how this occurred and then, secondly, as towho is responsible.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Yet many of those people that maybe responsible or may be deemed responsible by the courts may well be Russianand the Russian government is highly unlikely to give them up?

JULIE BISHOP: There's also a question of stateresponsibility. And so we now have a situation where the Netherlands haveagreed that they will have a state prosecution in the Netherlands and we wantto ensure that the families of the victims are able to attend the hearings thatthey have, that the next of kin can be part of the process. It was a shockingincident and we owe it to the Australian people who were involved, we owe it tothe families, but also to send a message that it is not acceptable forcountries to recklessly or deliberately - the report is yet to apportion blame- bring down a civilian aircraft with 298 innocent people on board. It is very importantto maintain confidence in the safety of international travel.

PHILIPWILLIAMS: Julie Bishop, thanks for talkingto us.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

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